2009-09-25 -38 146
Just off a "road" in Tyers State Park, north of Morwell.
I'm driving pretty much past on the way to Liconla, so I'll have a go. Google says there's a road almost to to the hashpoint.
 Short Version
google lied... ok... so technically there's a road, but it was made of mud and slopingness and overgrowingness.
decided to walk the last Km instead and got very wet and muddy and had no GPS reception in the trees and clouds and rain and dark.
Eventually gave up when i got to a 45 Degree slope covered in wet ferns, and it was obvious i would never get a good fix on the hash point.
Managed to walk Directly back to the car though... I wasn't lost (although it could have been managed pretty easily), just couldn't determine where I needed to go.
Camped in the Car at Licola over night, then had an annoying drive back to Melbourne the next day.
 Long Version
I was going to drive to Licola today, and checked out the hashes on the way. It turned out that the Traralgon hash would be pretty close to the back-way from Moe to Heyfield, which is the main entry point for the road up to Licola. Google Maps shows a group of roads branching out near the hash, with one ending within a few hundred meters of the point itself. The hash itself is just on the North side of the hill, on a steepening slope.
The drive from Melbourne was uneventful, until I turned off the highway at Moe. The weather however was not so wonderful, and slowly deteriorating. I didn't think about it at the time, but the rain and low overcast would prove difficult later. I drove behind the cooling towers of the Yallourn Power Station, which made for an impressive sight with it's large concrete cooling tower, and white steam, against the dark overcast sky. Unfortunately my iPhone was incapable of taking a worthwhile photo.
I had a little trouble navigating towards Tylers State Park, mainly due to second-guessing myself (I did at one point end up at Lake Narracan, but it was only a few hundred meters or so in the wrong direction). Around this time I almost earned myself a Police ribbon. While driving along the edges of the towns, police lights lit up behind me. I didn't think I was doing anything illegal, and slowed down and pulled to the far left (as I should) to let the police past. However they stayed a hundred meters or so behind me. So I then pulled off the road completely, and stopped, expecting the police to pull up behind me. I was mightily confused when looking in the rear view mirror to see that they had apparently stopped, still a hundred meters or so behind me. It was only when I instead checked in a side mirror that I realised that they had pulled over a car behind me..... The police and the car they had stopped had been so perfectly aligned the whole time that I could not tell that there were in fact two cars.
Somewhat relieved, and feeling a little silly, I pulled out and kept going. I shortly found the turn off I would take up to the State Park, and headed up the road which I discovered was a wet dirt only by the feel of the driving (In the low light the dark and wet surface looked like a sealed road). After a minute or so of passing small farms, I was on Blair rd, with State park on one side, and approaching the intersection where I would enter the park proper (small as it may be).
Here I encountered what in hindsight was a warning sign. Blair rd was blocked by a gate preventing entry to the Park. But no matter! I wanted the open side road in any case. I took the 4wd track into the Park. I had only gone a hundred meters (to where the first branching intersection should be) when I encountered another warning sign. The left branch was blocked and overgrown, and the right had a foot high mound forming the lower side of a drainage ditch. however i was very close, and decided to persevere onwards. I was after all in a 4wd.
At the next and last intersection, the road became stupid. The left branch was a steep slope, 3 meters high, and up to a 60° grade until it topped an embankment... not an easy job at the best of times, and definitely not in the rain and with a muddy gloopy surface over a hard-packed clay-like under layer. The right branch (where I wanted to go) was better, with a much gentler slope, but the same road conditions. But wanting to get to the top of the hill before walking the last bit, I engaged 4wd and gave it a go. I got about 10 meters (half way) before deciding that I wasn't going to get up without spinning the wheels and destroying the track, so I stopped, and carefully backed down again. I parked back below the first branching of the track and took stock.
Looking at my GPS, I was within 900m or the hash. An easy walking distance. Granted it was dark and wet, but under a Km is not that far is it? No!....
I got out of the car with possibly Fergus, my torch, GPSr and iPhone, and headed back up the road. Without the cars headlights it was pretty dark, thanks to the low overcast clouds and rain, but the clouds did have one advantage. the reflected glow from the Latrobe valley (home to a number of towns and power stations) provided me with some light. I carefully made my way up the slippery muddy road, to the top of the immediate slope. Topping the immediate rise, the ground flattened out and the road became increasingly overgrown...
Although google maps marks roads here, they are obviously 4wd tracks, and not recently used ones. very likely they are actually closed and being left to be reclaimed by the underbrush. Even if I had driven up this slope, I wouldn't have gone much further by car.
As I got further into the trees, the reflected light began to dim, and I turned to my torch to light my way. The rain was consistent, but quite light. Nothing to worry about. From here the hash point was over the peak of the hill, about 700m away. I took a bearing from the GPS, and headed into the darkness.
Glancing occasionally at the GPS I continued on through the undergrowth, avoiding local obstacles as I could. Since I favor LED type torches combined with night vision, my lit area was not great, so I was not able to plan well enough to avoid all the obstacles in my way, and kept walking up to thicker groups of 2m tall shrubs, fallen trees and the occasional wombat hole. While i was fortunately able to avoid tripping in the latter, I had to push through the foliage to keep my bearing. Doing so of course meant I was getting wetter, both from brushing against the plants, and from the water dislodged when i moved them aside.
But I kept stumbling forward, determined that I had gone well past stupidity distance already. I am a decent hand at bush navigation, and felt confident in my ability to track to my goal. every minute or so I glanced at the GPS, to confirm I was on track.
After continuing this for a short while, I noticed something odd. It sees that i had bumped the controls of the GPS while pushing through and over obstacles, and the sub-menus were showing. I took a moment to re-set the view, and was gladdened to see that it showed me only a few meters from the way-point. I began to GPS dance...
But the numbers didn't change... how very odd...
And then I noticed 2 more things... The GPS still had the named way-point some distance away, and it had lost satellite reception. It seems that while I was pushing my way through some trees, or stumbling over something, the controls i bumped had marked a couple of new way-points, and that I had not had reception for some time. Looking up, my view of the sky was partially obscured by the canopy, and combined with the overcast, it was blocking the satellite signal. I reset the GPS to point at the hash, which it said was around 500m away, and thought for a moment.
Although I could only see for a couple of meters by my torchlight, the shape and slope of the hill was obvious, and I could clearly see the reflected glow from the south over to hilltop even if it was not providing me with light. The sky was grey from the light on the clouds, and the silhouettes of the canopy stood out against it well. Like most Eucalyptus forests, the larger trees are spaced reasonable distances apart, making the canopy a thin and broken thing, rather than the dense canopies of other types of forests. I could see a relatively clear (of larger trees at least) area up ahead, and made for it in the hope that I could get better reception.
This seemed to work, and the GPS decided that I was about 440m from the hash, and slightly off track. The new plan, it seemed, would be to hop between slightly clearer areas, checking my progress as I went.
I headed onwards. Although I could avoid most of the denser areas, the ground-cover was quite sodden. From brushing through it, my pants were attempting to match water content, and my legs were quite wet. I had a few close stumbles with hidden obstacles as I went, and although I always caught myself before hitting the ground, I did so at the expense of more wetness. As I corrected my course and continued, the GPS was p[roving ever less reliable. Instead of no reception, it began to tell me i was heading at right angles to my path, but not moving. As a fail-safe, I had compared it's heading to the compass on my iPhone (which I only trust to be roughly accurate at best), and they had diverged somewhat.
After a while, and a couple of course changes and clearings, they were switching between both being inaccurate, but agreeing, and both completely disagreeing and pointing in opposite directions. I began to realise that I was not going to be able to tell even if I happened to stand right on the hash. The GPSr had not changed it's distance to the way-point even though I had walked a couple of hundred meters (roughly) closer than the indicated 440m.
I could tell from the lay of the land that I was close, and thought that if i could just go a little further, I could at least claim a moral victory, if not proof....
A few steps onward, and the slope suddenly increased to about 45°. I was almost there. but along with the slope, the vegetation changed as well. Now all of a sudden the ground was covers with dense shin high ferns, slick and slippery, on top of loose sodden soil... the slope before me began to look decidedly dicey, and I knew from the maps and experience that it would continue like that most of the way to the river at the centre of the valley. Already very wet, I couldn't see the ground or where I would be placing my feet, and i would have to climb back up again if I went any further.
Stupidity distance suddenly became much shorter, so much so that it ended up somewhere after my GPS had stopped. I couldn't go on in the conditions, and wouldn't be able to tell when I had reached anywhere in any case. And so, I had to give up. So close (I think) and yet so far. All that remained was to find my way back to the car.
This at least would not be too hard. Even if I had strayed slightly (or a lot), I knew I just needed to head to the top of the hill, then south towards the glow of the Latrobe Valley. However this proved to be the wettest, and hardest part of the walk. The vegetation in the area tends (for whatever reason) to become low (2m tall or so) mini-trees on the hill-tops in the area, and that is what I found on this hilltop. For a hundred meters or so I was completely surrounded by the wet vegetation, and ended up quite soaked. Then I encountered waist high ferns, and stumbled through and into them where i could not see the ground or my footing. For all that, I managed eventually to find what appeared to be the vestiges of a road, and follow by sticking to the slightly less overgrown areas. This led me directly to the last marked intersection, and my original slippery slopy tracks. And of course descending them was harder than the ascent, so I managed to slip in the mud a couple of times, ending up with a large amount of it down the sides of my pants.
But I had returned to the car, and was able to continue on my way, a tad disappointed and somewhat damper than I set out, but safe and soon to be warm.
(there will still be a bit more to come covering my trip up to Licola, river crossings, hand-break fails and car-trailer windcatchers causing super slow drives)
 Lessons Learned
- Google can be quite wrong (or only slightly wrong, but enough to be a significant hurdle). I knew this of course, but where the satellite / arial photos had seemed to match the map, was in this case actually coincidence (clearings rather than exposed sections of useable road)
- Mark your parking spot as a way-point. OK so it wouldn't have helped to start with, but if i had actually got properly turned around and lost, at som point i would have regained enough satelite reception to re-locate my car.
- The GPS can be wrong. I knew this as well, but was surprised at exactly the method of the wrongness (consistantly odd directions rather than just distance inaccuracies)
- 1Km can in fact be quite far depending on the conditions.
- Close to midnight is not really the right time to be wandering around an unfamiliar forest in the rain.
- more I think.
Personally I felt confident in my ability to be safe in the conditions. It was wet, and relativly cold. it would have been extremely unpleasant and quite dangerous to have had to sleep out there. Knowing when to turn back and give up is an important lesson. I ought to have done so sooner. Once it was obvious that the GPS was not going to be able to pinpoint the hash, the conditions did not warrant continuing. A good adventure is one thing, but sometimes it would not take much to change that adventure into a somewhat less enjoyable story.
 Licola and the journey Home
| myka and possibly Fergus earned the "Mother Nature's Bitch" Consolation Prize